Is outrage-fatigue setting in for much of America?
If there's a rock, there must be a scorpion under it. And if there's no scorpion, someone must have helped it get away.I think this could be a real political phenomenon, but if so, what does it mean? Will politics really become verboten conversation as it was fifty years ago in polite social gatherings? Will newspapers and TV continue to lose ground as the nation tunes out the bad news?
Public officials deserve, in fact demand, our scrutiny. But there's a problem when almost every story, large and small and in between, is packaged the same way, and that's as a personality-driven scandal, an abuse of the public trust. Motives are always to be questioned - whether there's evidence of a devious conspiracy or not.
What did they know and when did they know it? Will they come clean? Will they apologize? Will they step down? Is there a crime, and whether or not there's a crime, is there a cover up?
That's the process: Get lathered up, rinse, repeat.
Along the way, if we're lucky, the scandals dovetail with larger public policy questions. If we're lucky.
In the Bush administration the momentous decision to invade Iraq changed history forever and warranted our full attention. But somehow it didn't really translate into a media-consuming debate until we could package it as a scandal - or a series of scandals: over the "16 words" spoken in the State of the Union address, over Valerie Plame, over Pat Tillman, over Abu Ghraib.
We've treated health care the same way: putting out fires over the public option and so-called death panels. Dizzily searching for side-debates. Weekly handicapping the President's tactical victories and defeats. Doing it all at the highest imaginable volume.
Yes, we've loved scandal from the earliest days of the Republic. Alexander Hamilton's sex life sold newspapers by the thousands. But it never occupied quite as much national oxygen as all our rat-a-tat obsessions on everyone and everything do these days.
At some point, we're going to exhaust ourselves. The backlash will come.
In ever greater numbers, we will start to slow down, turning off cable and talk radio and blogs and turning on something like PBS, or just shutting out politics entirely.
Maybe that sounds naïve. But we're to the point that the static has become the show. And you can only stare at static for so long. [More]
To some extent, I believe so. I know farmers I have visited with lately really, really want to talk about farming, not the larger issues facing us. And I don't relish conversations on the hot topics becuase they never seem to get anywhere and make me feel worse than I did before they began.
This dropping-out will bring its own consequences, of course. And maybe the bitter-enders who can't let an issue drop deserve to win. But is also suggests voices of relatively non-confrontational leadership may find more audience than they suspect.
Then again, we've thought these things before. And it's just issues that fall from favor, not outrage itself. Or maybe different voices are taking turns ranting. Indeed, the rotation seems to be making another lap. Remember the horse-slaughter "debate"?